When it comes to science-fiction comedies released in the 1980s, few are as popular and influential as those in the Back to the Future trilogy. The three films were released between 1985 and 1990, with a classic original being followed by two surprisingly solid sequels. They collectively tell the story of a teenager and an older scientist traveling through time, consistently trying to make sure things aren’t messed with, and also ensuring they get back to where/when they need to be.
There are plenty of other great movies that blend science-fiction and comedy from the 1980s, however. Not all are time-travel related, and some are very different from Back to the Future, but they’re worth highlighting regardless. For those who love 80s movies and like their sci-fi concepts mixed with humor, the following films are all essential watches.
10 ‘Re-Animator’ (1985)
If Re-Animator is to count as a zombie movie, then it might well be one of the goriest (and most disturbing) of all time. It blends sci-fi and horror while also being darkly comedic, following an intense and unnerving student who tries to re-animate the dead at a medical college.
It pulls off the balancing act between horror and comedy well, while also feeling like a sci-fi movie because of the advanced, unusual technology intrinsic to the plot. It’s very much like a more gruesome and shocking take on the classic Frankenstein story, feeling old-school and post-modern at the same time, and is easy to recommend to viewers with strong stomachs.
9 ‘Repo Man’ (1984)
Repo Man stands as one of the most distinct cult classics of the 1980s, though the “cult” should be emphasized over the “classic,” because it might not be for everyone. It follows a young street punk taking a job as a repo man, but the role ends up being unlike what he expected.
It does a great job at having a carefree, rebellious style mixed in with an unpredictable story that introduces more sci-fi elements as it goes along. It’s rough around the edges but has a certain charm to it, and certainly feels like a product of the 1980s (but in a good way).
8 ‘Electric Dreams’ (1984)
There’s no easy way to say it: Electric Dreams is a movie about a love triangle, and one of the three people in the love triangle isn’t actually a person: it’s a computer. The plot revolves around a young man who falls for his neighbor and wants to court her with the help of his advanced computer, but things get complicated when the computer also falls in love with the woman.
It’s essentially Cyrano de Bergerac, but with a science-fiction slant and a very 1980s aesthetic. The fashion, editing style of the film, and its great music all scream 1980s, and much of it even has the feel of a classic music video. But it does this while also being very charming, and is easily one of the most underrated films of its decade.
7 ‘The Adventure of Denchu-Kozo’ (1987)
Shinya Tsukamoto is a Japanese director who’s best known for making the 1989 sci-fi/body horror movie Tetsuo: The Iron Man. There’s an argument to be made regarding that film also being underrated, but it’s achieved a level of fame/notoriety among film buffs that it might not be underrated in the truest sense of the word (plus it’s also not a comedy).
Tsukamoto’s The Adventure of Denchu-Kozo, on the other hand, is more comedic and is also quite underrated. It was essentially a warm-up for Testuo: The Iron Man, having a similar premise about a person slowly turning into something metallic, but does it with a smaller budget, a goofier tone, and a runtime that’s only about three-quarters of an hour long.
6 ‘Critters’ (1986)
Even if Critters might well have been heavily inspired by the similarly titled Gremlins, it still stands out enough to be worth watching. It also adds a sci-fi spin on the idea of pint-sized creatures terrorizing a small town, given that the titular critters here arrive from space, and then start wreaking havoc on an unsuspecting population.
Gremlins and its sequel might be the gold standard, but at least Critters is better than Ghoulies. Viewers who like this kind of high-energy horror/comedy type of movie are certainly spoiled for choice when it comes to the sub-genre’s offerings from the 1980s and 1990s, and for all its flaws, the original Critters is still pretty entertaining.
5 ‘My Twentieth Century’ (1989)
IMDb and Letterboxd both define My Twentieth Century as a science-fiction film (as well as a comedy/drama), but it’s a little hard to define it as one in the strictest sense. Actually, it’s a little hard to define or summarize the film at all, as it’s very strange, and has a dreamlike feel, flowing between various vignettes that sometimes feel connected and sometimes feel completely isolated.
The synopsis will tell you that it’s about two girls who were both born at the same time electricity was introduced to the world, and how this somehow put them on the course to have two different (and dramatic) destinies. The ultimate meaning feels like it’s a lot grander and more obtuse than that, but the experience of watching the film is undeniably engaging, and viewers will likely get out of it what they put into it.
4 ‘The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension’ (1984)
Few movie titles are as fantastic as The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. It’s a silly yet charming comedy that feels like it parodies old-school sci-fi tropes, telling the story of the title character and his team taking on alien invaders from the mysterious 8th dimension who’ve set their sights on Earth.
It’s the kind of movie that could be a total mess, as it tries to balance music, comedy, adventure, sci-fi, and romance all in one. But it kind of all works, somehow, and emerges as a very fun and memorable cult classic. It also has the best end credits sequence of the decade, bar none.
3 ‘Bad Taste’ (1987)
Over a decade before Peter Jackson became a household name due to the success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, he was making low-budget horror movies in his native New Zealand. Bad Taste was his first feature film, and combines gory horror and dark comedy with a unique spin on the alien invasion sub-genre of movies.
It’s a movie that’s ridiculously violent and scrappy, being made for what looks like a few thousand dollars at most. However, there’s a certain level of technical skill behind the camera that elevates it, and for a debut film, it’s surprisingly good. It also has some of the most memorable scenes in horror history that involve a chainsaw, outside The Texas Chainsaw Massacre of course.
2 ‘Liquid Sky’ (1982)
Liquid Sky is a weird movie. It sounds weird from its basic premise, and then watching it reveals the final product is somehow even weirder than one could’ve anticipated. It more or less follows an alien creature who comes to New York City seeking a chemical in the human brain that’s only released during sex, with the creature killing anyone it extracts this substance from.
The writing is strange and the acting often feels quite amateurish, and when you couple those things with the odd premise, it’s certainly not an accessible movie. It does, however, have a unique style and some distinctive visuals, and its oddness has understandably made it something of an underground cult classic in the years since its release.
1 ‘The Apple’ (1980)
It’s hard to know where to start when trying to describe The Apple. It’s easily one of the strangest musicals of all time, being set in a future where one man controls all the music in the world, and with it, essentially controls the world. He holds a competition – the WorldVision Song Festival – and aims to corrupt the souls of two young singers who catch his eye during said competition.
It’s hard to know what parts were intended to be funny and which parts weren’t. Certainly, to some extent, The Apple feels like a sci-fi movie that’s supposed to have some humor, but it also has the feeling of a so-bad-it’s-good movie at other times. It’s a mess of a film, but a wonderful mess nonetheless, and certainly a unique example of the sci-fi and comedy genres crossing paths.
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